Steiner – not compatible with New Zealand’s education system.

The New Zealand Listener says the NZ Ministry for Education carried out an official investigation and found that

“…aspects of Steiner’s writings are not compatible with the Treaty of Waitangi or New Zealand’s education system. In supporting documents, the investigator also notes “more specific evidence of racism”.

This brilliant article describes what happened when parents and teachers discovered racism at their school, and spoke out.

The investigation followed complaints from a large group of parents and teachers at the state-integrated Te Ra Waldorf school where numbers have shrunk to 140 after the departure of 6 teachers and more than 29 families.

The teachers and parents found out the reasons for some of the unusual practices at the school, and were “vilified” for speaking out against the racism in anthroposophy.

After two years during which the investigation took place, those who left are now able to tell their stories, and much of what they say chimes with criticism already heard repeatedly around the world.

This article explains in detail the criticisms making it a valuable tool for the highlighting of the dangers of Steiner education.

The New Zealand government was not fobbed off by the school’s denials, and the Education Minister took complaints seriously enough to find out;

“The racism is seen as both overt and covert. The covert racism is a paternalistic, condescending racism based on Steiner’s belief that everyone is on a journey to becoming white. It is a very ingrained, racist theology. Once parents became concerned about the racism, they tried to find out more about what the teachers actually believe. It was difficult to find out, but what did become clear was that if you are in any way different – left-handed, Maori, differently shaped head – it marks you out.”

The issue of the victims of bullying being viewed as to blame themselves is also described.

The DfE here and Ofsted are being made aware of what is going on in New Zealand. Perhaps it will spur them on to take more interest themselves  in this important matter.

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15 comments

  1. Helen

    The fact that innocent teachers had been working in the school alongside those who knew all about anthroposophy shows how complicated the issue of using spiritual science in a school turns out to be. The deception is not just of the parents, but of some of the teachers within the school too. The teachers’ shame at finding out what they had been involved in is sad to read.
    Head teachers like Trevor Mepham at Frome (he knows all about it) who deny even knowing Steiner believed in reincarnation are perpetrating the deception.

    • koputai

      ‘utunga’, in reply to Listener article :
      It’s not true that there cannot be change at Waldorf schools. When this article broke we were in the process of revamping our whole special character statement so as to distance ourselves from Anthroposophy in general and put an emphasis on the 100 year old tradition of teaching that is the Waldorf education. Unfortunately this article does not help at all, because it adds a lot more heat and exaggeration to an already combustible mess of rumours, innuendo and mis quoted facts. I’m not suprised that Catherine Woulf got the date of the incidents at Titirangi Rudolf school wrong. She doesn’t appear to have bothered to do very much work on this report because in fact she got a huge number of basic facts wrong – that could easily have been checked. Just for example she reports that the roll was 140 when it was 157 as of March and July roll returns (which are available from the ministry). She says that ‘this is Hekia Parata country’, when in fact Hekia Parata has not one a single election in this electorate. There are a number of other easily checked objective facts she just got plain wrong. This, to me, indicates that actually doing proper work and checking her sources and facts wasn’t going to get in the way of her writing the story she wanted to write. She clearly interviewed many people that left the school but didnt interview *any* of the parents that stayed at the school, nor did she bother to visit the place in person or. in fact, bother to find out anything that happened at the school since last year.

      She also completely mischaracterizes the report from the ministry. At the start of the article she wrote:

      Last month an official investigation commissioned by the Ministry of Education confirmed that aspects of Steiner’s writings are not compatible with the Treaty of Waitangi or New Zealand’s education system. In supporting documents, the investigator also notes “more specific evidence of racism”.

      But the Ministry of Education statement – as reported in the dominion post – characterizes the report this way:

      We treat any suggestion of racism in schools very seriously and always take action to investigate if a complaint is made.

      We initiated an independent investigation that found no evidence of racist elements within the Te Ra Waldorf school curriculum or in the delivery of the curriculum. We are satisfied that the school is operating as it should be.

      She also uses the word “more specific evidence of racism” in quotes but actually that phrase doesn’t appear anywhere in the report.

      Finally, and this is the worst thing, she repeats about four things that are essentially just ‘urban myths’ without qualification. Just as an example she says that a “Pakistani girl was seated next to a fair-haired, light-skinned child so she could “better evolve”. But as far as I can determine from asking around last year this is just one of those things that someone heard from someone who heard it from someone who heard it from someone. At no point is there a first source who can report that they witnessed or even know someone who witnessed this occuring at any Waldorf school. This doesn’t mean it’s untrue but it has all the hallmarks of an urban myth (salacious, easy to repeat, believable to some depending on their prejudices). It’s very much like the urban myth about Richard Gere having to visit a hospital to have a Gerbil removed from his rectum. To people who were already suspicious of the activities of gay people in big city it’s exactly the kind of thing they love to repeat, but in fact it is just made up.

      As I say we can’t know for sure if that is true or false, but it is up to a reporter to find decent sources and confirm their facts before they report them. Putting it in quotes as “Gray, for example, was informed of a “shocking incident” at a kindergarten” is really just not good enough.

      The thing is, this story is messing with real lives and a real school here, so maybe some attention to getting a fair balanced story and getting both sides, and not just repeating rumours and innuendo might have allowed us to get at the *real* issues here which are around parents not being listened to and the question of the evolution consciousness (for example) and how exactly, if at all that is affecting the curriculum at Te Ra.

      And such a shame. Because there are many that had left Te Ra that really appreciated an opportunity finally air their grievances. To quote someone else:

      “this article is a monument to missed opportunity for everybody. People who want serious debate about anthroposophy, about state-funding of integrated schools, about faith-based education, about whether Waldorf is faith-based education, about the racism implied, explicit, current or historic, who have a stake in a clear account of a complex community dynamic – all should be seriously disappointed. The article reads like a shabbily-written recycled press release based on dodgy journalistic practice.”

      • Pete Karaiskos

        What a comical response! The Richard Gere reference was the icing on the cake for me. “The thing is, this story is messing with real lives and a real school here” Ah… it’s the STORY that’s messing with real lives, not the school… Got it!

        “It’s not true that there cannot be change at Waldorf schools.” Really? Show me ANY Waldorf school that has undergone the type of change it would need to remove racism from their schools? Where would they find teachers who aren’t trained in racist ideas – so NO Waldorf teachers? Certainly nobody who has undertaken Waldorf training is qualified to teach children without using racist thinking. Waldorf teachers need to understand racist ideas in order to do their work. It’s THAT simple. Waldorf is all about treating children in accordance with their race, head size, hand dominance and temperament.

        “People who want serious debate about anthroposophy… ” Like that would ever happen.

        • Helen

          I see the Ministry have been working with the school, presumably to help them change their ways. I wonder if they will have more success than the inspectors did with Aberdeen – they preferred to close rather than change;
          “Within the College of Teachers, there is resistance to such change”.

  2. Helen

    Koputai
    You have copied and pasted this official Steiner response from someone else’s comment on the original article.
    It does not address any of the criticisms in the article, and singles out one incident at a kindergarten.
    The *real* issues of Steiner education are taken extremely seriously here.
    It would be more helpful if Steiner defenders were able to comment in their own words, rather than repeating ridiculous statements about “distancing ourselves from anthroposophy”.
    The “100 year old tradition that is Waldorf Education” – that IS anthroposophy – that’s the problem!!

    • koputai

      Yes, you are right about my cutting and pasting this response. It was from an open ‘comments’ section following the article, and I acknowledged the author, ‘utunga’, as that was the name given in the post. It highlighted some excellent points. I am all for a fair and balanced discussion of Waldorf education here in NZ. However, the facts as they are reported on this site in regard to Te Ra School, and the findings of the NZ Ministry of Education are misrepresented.

      The actual joint press release from the NZ Ministry of Education and Te Ra School may be found here, if anyone wishes to see the discrepancy between “Steiner – not compatible with New Zealand’s education system”, and with what the Ministry’s actual findings were, please read the report here:

      http://tera.school.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/MoE-Te-Ra-School-statement.pdf

      • Helen

        Thanks for the link to the statement, but it’s a shame the link from there to the Education Review Office review does not work – it hasn’t been published on the school website, as the statement suggests, or maybe it has been removed.
        The matter has not been resolved yet as far as I can make out, and the NZ Ministry of Education say that as well as this investigation “…we have been working with the new school board for the past year on governance, management and delivery of the curriculum.”
        Clearly there are problems still being dealt with.

        • we escaped!

          I think it is highly offensive to call the true goings on urban myths. Many of the people posting their first hand experiences on this blog and others similar blogs, know that the article written in the Listener is not an urban myth, but closer to real experiences and facts.

  3. Helen

    Pete and we escaped – yes to make out the material in this article is on a par with the Sun “Freddie Star ate my hamster” story (which must be the English equivalent) and describe the issues as a “myth” is indeed insulting and an attempt to belittle the serious complaints which have been raised time and again before they appeared in this article.
    The commenter quoted above is not denying the events ever happened. He doesn’t even seem to be saying the protesters got the wrong idea about anthroposophy, more that anthroposophy isn’t used in the schools – same old story…

  4. Helen

    The reporter has replied to comments on the Listener website;

    “CatherineWoulfe Jul 29 2014, 11:07am
    Thank you everyone for your comments. We note:
    – the roll number was provided to the Listener on request by the Ministry of Education;
    – the Dominion Post story quotes a Ministry press release that was sent to us at 5.45pm on Wednesday – we go to press at 5pm. The Ministry had earlier issued us a slightly different statement, and we quoted fairly from it, as we did from the statements sent by the school and the Federation. The Ministry, the principal and the Federation were given the opportunity for a phone interview but chose to respond in writing;
    – we also quoted from supporting documents that were produced as part of the official investigation but not included in the Ministry’s release;
    – as noted in the story, the phrase “more specific evidence of racism” appears in one of these supporting documents (the story also makes clear that these examples were not included in the Final Report);
    – the principal and Ministry were made aware five days before we went to press that we held these documents, and the principal was asked to identify any errors of fact or areas the school planned to contest;
    – we stand by our sources;
    – Education Minister Hekia Parata is based in the Mana electorate. The print version of the story erroneously states that this is her electorate – an error we have corrected online, and which we regret.
    We welcome letters or queries at letters@listener.co.nz

    A criticism in comments on the Listener site mentions that the photos are incorrectly labelled (as if this was as important as racism in a school). The photo of the Goetheanum is the original wooden building that burned down during Steiner’s life-time and was replaced with the current concrete edifice. The other strange-looking building is also in Dornach and forms part of the Steiner HQ or “theme park”.

    I didn’t get an answer from koputai about their name; I don’t expect the person to tell us their name, but I think it is dishonest in a discussion about racism to pose as a member of the group suffering discrimination when in fact you are not.

    • koputai

      Some information that you may use for a little self-reflection, Helen: Koputai is where I live, my name is Julie. Your assumption that I am ‘posing as a member of the group suffering discrimination ‘ has provided some entertainment for my ‘mixed race’ family.
      It is clear that you have a predetermined idea of who I am/what I represent, so unfortunately there is nothing to be gained through any further discussion. You obviously carry a lot of hurt, and I do not wish that on anyone. But neither do I wish to add to it by fueling your fire.
      Regards,
      Julie MacLeod

      • Helen

        Thanks for clearing that up Julie. Providing entertainment is some small kind of accomplishment, I suppose.
        For your self-reflection the following information; my curiosity about this subject began just over 2 and a half years ago and the resulting discovery about it’s disastrous effects on innocent families has led to this blog.
        The fire was burning long before I came along.

  5. SR

    This article is excellent; it’s good to see a journalist not swallowing the school’s party line.

    koputai, you said

    “Finally, and this is the worst thing, she repeats about four things that are essentially just ‘urban myths’ without qualification.”

    I realise it’s common for Steiner supporters to diminish people’s personal experiences; it’s always said that people should “come along and see the schools for themselves” – (when they won’t be told the full picture by any stretch of the imagination). It’s also common to be told that no Steiner school is the same, and mistakes are just “one bad apple”; but the repetition of such similar affairs can’t be ignored.

    It’s well known that little is written down as a record in Steiner schools- it’s not encouraged; so people’s experiences are all the more important and potent, and I can relate fully to this article, it strongly reflects things which happened during our time in a Steiner environment.

    • Helen

      Thanks SR.
      The “one bad apple” excuse they use just doesn’t wash – the bad apple teachers are the ones who are using anthroposophy the most; in other words, those who are the proper Steiner teachers, and there are a lot of them about. As was pointed out here in a comment, the teachers from Aberdeen and other closing Steiner schools are looking for jobs and could well end up in free schools. These are having trouble recruiting “suitable staff” – as demonstrated at Bristol Steiner Academy where according to their website they only have one class teacher in place for September. The bad apples could show up in a barrel near any one of us.
      And yes, Steiner schools are notorious for poor record keeping, and this is not just carelessness but a deliberate policy and has stifled criticism in the past.

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